Mitch Daniels Commencement Speech 2020

Mitch Daniels’ commencement speech: “Absent a little special effort, you will rarely make friends different from yourselves”

In an unlisted YouTube video published this weekend, Mitch Daniels gave his virtual commencement speech to Purdue grads. The 12 minute video is well worth a watch.

In it, Daniels talks about a hobby horse of mine: loneliness and disconnection despite seemingly endless ‘connection’. He notes “Absent a little special effort, you will rarely make friends different from yourselves.”

“I’m concerned you won’t make friends at all,” he says. This to an audience connected almost constantly by phones. His general advice is to turn off your phone, tune out video screens, and have more personal contact with people. The benefits of which can stave off depression, suicide, and as he notes — add years to your life. Prolonged loneliness can be as deadly as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day or heavy drinking.

The effort to make friends is hard. And Daniels says he’s not been a good role model. “I’ve not devoted the time I should have to deepen acquantancines into friendships. I’ve let the call of work get in the way. I’ve told myself that jobs of broad responsibility mean one can’t get too close to coworkers and colleagues. I’ve procrastinated and skipped too many chances to spend time with people I admire and love. I regret it and I’m worse for it.”

Admittedly, he notes he thought of this speech as early as December before COVID-19 entered the lexicon. Adding to the challenges of deeper connection with people is the cumbersome and expensive ways we’ve designed ourselves away from people, made worse by the pandemic. But even before the pandemic, cities and neighborhoods bifurcated by small highways, sprawl, and the rising cost of moving around has left teens and young people without an easy way to be around each other. More to the point, many people of all incomes have designed their lives around the notion that work is all their is because we need the money to maintain a lifestyle. For some that might be food and energy. For others, it might just be to maintain a pricey car or redo a deck or patio we’ll never use for much.

Social media is not a proxy for us to “live our best lives”. People’s lives are often tragic, sad, and void of the constant prettiness of people or place so often presented to us by others.

The feelings of connectedness can be mitigated, Daniels says, by faith and marriage. I don’t disagree with that, but if one or both are not your cup of tea, even just making time to cook dinner for others can be equally beneficial. That takes two people, however. I’ve invited people to a home-cooked dinner in the past and people look at me like I have three heads.

My long-time wish has been for people I care about to reach out with regularity. Write a letter. Make a FaceTime call. Invite people to dinner — without phones or other distractions. I imagine most of my messages and emails are like yours: a constant reminder of people reaching out only when they want or need something.

A person’s success in life depends on who a person knows, and more specifically, how well you know them. That goes for our careers and our health. We can’t truly know people through a Facebook or LinkedIn profile. But darned if people aren’t trying to make anti-social media into something it isn’t. The sooner people realize Facebook and their ilk exist for people like me to sell stuff to people like you, the better.

Indiana’s printing presses and the wheels on the bus

Did you know that Indiana state government once had about half a dozen printing departments? Within itself. All with their own staff and presses and supplies. Did I mention there were several of these? Sometimes one would be busy while others were sitting around doing nothing. That went away during the Daniels administration.

I was thinking about that anecdote this weekend as I placed some trash bags in the garage. Because as I was putting those bags into the trash cart, I thought, “I wonder how much the City pays for this? And why do we contract with Republic Services for so much of the city?”

This is how my brain works.

So I went digging around and I can’t say I can tell. Indianapolis’ budget [PDF] is usually around $35 million a year for solid waste collection (that doesn’t include disposal). I’m in one of the districts that gets served by Indianapolis DPW for trash collection, and we pay an extra $6 a month for recycling pickup via Republic Services. I’ve never had a problem with either.

Republic actually provides collection for much of the city. While I can’t figure out how much is paid where, it does lead to the obvious question: should a city ever collects its own trash? Some cursory Googling would suggest it’s rarely cost-efficient, as municipal workers tend to get paid more. And if you squint, you can make the suggestion that the extra pay makes them behave a little safer.

Like Mitch Daniels and Indiana’s monkeying with the print works, the rationale there was, “If we can open the yellow pages and find at least three companies doing the same thing, we should just hire one of them to do that thing.” It saves money and no one much noticed or cared when they went away. Trash collection seems all the same. No ever complains that their trash guy – city or private – is a problem.

Which brings me to the center of this government nougat: why don’t cities ever consider privatizing their bus systems?

There are plenty of private busing companies. Lots of school districts find it useful to hire a contractor for their school buses and drivers, so why not city buses? If schools do it and people are okay with that, and they’re no more or less safe than a publicly-owned bus, why wouldn’t we?

Indianapolis is set to vote in November on the Marion County Transit Plan, which includes a .025 percent increase on income taxes to pay for expanded bus service (FYI: we pay .093 for trash collection). This doesn’t include the Red Line, which is already paid for by federal money. This plan expands the “typical” service on more city streets, longer hours, and higher frequency (the magic sauce of a successful system).

IndyGo being Indianapolis’ bus provider would receive that money and put it to work. IndyGo exists in a weird place alongside narrow company. They’re a municipal corporation, meaning they can receive public money, but largely operate on their own with their own oversight, governance, boards, and leadership. The Indianapolis Airport Authority and the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library are the other two.

The airport does well with this. But they also have things to sell. Gate fees and usage fees for airlines and other companies keeps them flush. The library is much less so, but they can rent out space and presumably sell some tickets for events. And, luckily, you buy a book once and it’s pretty much okay forever.

IndyGo, however, is not in this fortunate position. Fare boxes can collect ticket revenue, but a bus’ fare box collects about enough money to pay for its gas. The bus itself, the driver, maintenance, and other infrastructure is reliant on public money.

I don’t think anyone with a rational bit of sense can look at IndyGo in its current state and say, “They’re inefficient with money.” If anything, they’re inefficient because they lack enough money to buy reasonably. Like when they buy a used bus from another city, usually Columbus, Ohio, and we run them until they’re powered by everyone’s feet sticking out the bottom. Like your dad who always bought $1,000 cars twice a year because it was “cheaper”.

But when folks walk out and say, “Hey, let’s levy a .025 income tax to pay for such-n-such”, this gets to be a really hard sell for a lot of reasonable people. There are places in Marion County that will pay for this and not see service. Probably ever. No one’s going to drive 4 miles just to take a bus for another 5. And no amount of squinting is ever going to make this valuable to them.

There are people, like me, who won’t see much difference because their current route’s frequency isn’t going up or down in the new plan, and I’m unlikely to ride a bus at 11 pm.

There are also rational people who will say, “Yeah, but for how long?” We pay .025 this year, and the next, but what about in 5? 10? Those costs have to go up sometime. What happens then must either be an increase or a reduction in services. This is true of trash service and lots of things, but it doesn’t seem to come up much. Plus, people are naturally inclined to assume whatever someone says about any public expenditure is likely not true. It’s almost impossible to accurately estimate anything at the scale of an entire city,anyway, but years of stories of really bad government spending has taken its toll.

I’m generally in the corner of privatized services because no one likes a monopoly, and government shouldn’t be allowed to run a monopoly on anything except military and police/justice matters.

And I know lots of great folks working at IndyGo. Like I said, no one can question their ability to make something out of nothing. But what would a private service look like? How come there isn’t a private company that takes on a large city’s bus service? We did it for the Commuter Express busses that served Carmel and Fishers, which was later doomed by low service frequency. Is it because it’s like education, where it inherently has to lose money, but we get a bunch of other things in return that makes that okay?

And if we did privatize it and regulate it like a utility, would that allow for more service through different hours, efficiency, savings, routes, or all of the above? I can imagine the biggest problem may be in loss of significant federal funding sources, which is a problem entirely in and of itself.

Indianapolis likes to lay claim to a bunch of successful public-private partnerships. We do this for school buses, trash collection, water, and electricity. Transportation seems like a reasonable place to look, too.

I ask these questions because I genuinely just don’t know. If anyone can point me to some guidance, please do.

Here’s the New Indiana

Mike Pence is going to run for governor of Indiana. Pence delayed his supposed announcement today as Obama and Osama appear to be dominating the news cycle for the foreseeable future, but he’s going to run for governor.

Mike Pence will run as the Republican to replace Mitch Daniels, the sitting Republican. The Democrats will likely run someone with a PhD, a feather boa or both, because those things play well in Indiana.

Mike Pence will win and become governor of Indiana in January 2013. Mitch Daniels will run for President in 2012, but will not succeed because he’s too smart for most of America. Unless Daniels dons his flannel coat and visits every county in America, it won’t happen.

But anyway, back to Mike Pence’s Indiana. Pence is currently a sitting congressman from our 6th district, which covers much of the eastern portion of the state. Prior to that he was in the 2nd district, which now covers north-central Indiana (the district labels changed during his terms. Same areas, just different numbers).

He’s a far-right social conservative and a far-right fiscal conservative, probably more far-right than Mitch “The Blade” Daniels.

Let it be known that I like Mitch Daniels. I think he cares about the policy and not the slightest bit about social issues, he’s just along for the ride in Brian Bosma’s House. Pence, however, I do not care for. He’d rather kill 20 grown women and a puppy than let a fetus die.

Here’s what Pence’s Indiana will look like:

  • More calls for tax-cuts on businesses and corporations. Daniels focused on tax cuts for citizens, now there’s nothing left to cut except business taxes. Not necessarily a bad thing, but something to note.
  • Harsh immigration protections. If you’re brown, get out of town.
  • More prisons. Daniels wants to cut sentence penalties to stop wasting time on minor drug offenders. Pence will build a prison on every block if he has to so he can look tough on crime.
  • If teachers hated Daniels, Pence will no doubt go further by being extremely hostile to public schools.
  • Gays, lesbians and transgender people can expect to get more restrictions placed on them, such as no gay teachers and no mention of gay and lesbian studies or anti-bullying protections in schools.
  • University funding will stay flatlined, even if the economy improves. This will result in higher tuition rates and more out-of-pocket expenses for Hoosier students and thus, fewer educated people. Pence doesn’t strike me as the kind of guy that values public education.
  • Pence’s faith will take him up to bat against gambling – online and off – and betting. So don’t expect any love for casinos or your freedom to make a choice to participate.
  • Consider abstinence-only education the norm in your kid’s health class.
  • Stem cell research and other biological do-goodery will be off the table for IU and Purdue health systems even if federal funding is available.
  • Little to no funding at all for services like mass transit around the state.
  • If Democrats retain control in Washington, expect a lot of grandstanding on refusing money “on principle”.
  • Expect to hear a lot of support for “the family”, despite the fact that most people are single, divorced or otherwise living alone.
  • I’d expect some protections for prayer and more religious influence in our otherwise secular-ish schools.

That said, Mike Pence’s Indiana will make us the Utah of the Midwest. You’ll no doubt be able to buy Bibles for a quarter in gumball machines and you can pickup a gun in one of those crane games at the grocery store.

Unlike Daniels, Pence has never had a good idea. Whether you love or hate Daniels, you can’t deny that they guy at least thought up a bunch of ideas. I do believe Daniels cares about the young, the elderly and the invalid; he just has a different ideological approach to addressing their needs than some care for.

Everything from the ill-conceived Commerce Connector highway between Greenwood and Greenfield on Indy’s southeast side to vouchers for schools and property tax caps and the toll road lease, Daniels thought of. Pence, however, is a national politician. He’s going to follow the trends of the day in that morning’s Fox News broadcast. I assure you that no one knows of anything that Mike Pence has done that actually mattered. Because he’s never had a good idea that mattered. Just a bunch of fluff.

I have no desire to live in Mike Pence’s Indiana. You people can keep him. My eye is firmly fixed on renting out my house and moving as soon as possible, maybe as soon as this fall.

Mike Pence will fit the bill for Indiana nicely, though. He’ll play into the rural votes and if you haven’t noticed, there’s a lot more rural Indiana surrounding the few urban bastions we have out there.

Good luck.

IndyGo Losing More Money

It’s no surprise that IndyGo, Indianapolis’ pretend mass-transit system, sucks. Among most lists of transportation systems in large cities, Indy ranks around 99 or 100 on a list of 100. I’m of the belief we either fix it up or shut it down. The turd we have now is just embarrassing.

The Star has a take on it:

That’s because the two-year budget bill moving through the General Assembly would cut state support for mass transit by almost 18 percent. IndyGo would have to absorb an $8 million hit, which amounts to about one-sixth of its budget.

Interestingly, the debate over funding for public transit isn’t between free spenders and budget hawks. In his budget proposal this year, Gov. Mitch Daniels, hardly a profligate spender, kept transit spending at its current level, despite the financial pressures facing state government.

Urban Indy has a piece on how INDOT doesn’t even bother holding mass-transit meetings in Indianapolis. Instead, they hold them in obscure places that would never need it anyway:

It’s disheartening to think that this is the best we can do in this state. As long as INDOT is the driver for transportation planning in the state, it’s hard to avoid the feeling that believers in diverse modes of travel and urban living in Indiana will be like Cubs fans: wait until next year.

This isn’t hard. It’s really not. First, does anyone actually realize there’s a lot of Indiana out there outside of Indianapolis? People in the other 84 out of 92 counties don’t give a crap what Indianapolis wants. They got pissed when Gov. Daniels sold “their” toll road and used it to pay for things like I-465 improvements, I-69 upgrades and I-70 on the east side. The rest of the state doesn’t like Indianapolis so it’s no surprise that their legislators don’t give two rips about IndyGo. If Indy wants it, Indy has to pay for it.

Second, INDOT builds roads because that’s what we’ve always liked. We’re “the crossroads of America” for heaven’s sake, not “The crossroads of monorail lines.” People in Indiana, and most of America, like cars. People like being in control of their own car, their own radio station, they can smoke ’em if they’ve got ’em and all they want is a clear slab of pavement in front of them to use it on. Count me in that bunch: I like driving vs. public transit any day. The few times I’ve been on public transit around the world I hated it. It smells crappy, it looks crappy, it’s late and the people are anything but safe to be around at times. If I get in my car, barring a wreck, so long as I’m out the door on-time I’ll get there on-time.

IndyGo needs money to operate and it needs riders. You’d think that getting more riders helps, but it doesn’t. More riders are fine, but riders barely make a dent in their budget. An easy solution here is to paint the buses somethin’ pretty and charge people a fair rate for getting across town. Current fares are at about a $1.50; raise it to $3 or $4 and this problem becomes much more manageable. That’s still cheaper than owning a car.

“But Justin, people can’t afford $3 fares.” Well, I’m sorry. The rest of the state clearly isn’t of a mind to support people getting to work in Indianapolis. It’s either higher fares or no bus at all. A better solution might be to do a sliding scale based on income and where you’re going. Going to work you pay one rate, going to the stadium, it’s another.

What can’t work is charging so little, making so little and doing so little. This isn’t hard to fix, but IndyGo’s hands are tied because it can’t just raise rates when it needs to. Hell, they can’t even hang up a sign without approval.

Take a Penny, Don’t Leave a Penny

I ran across this nifty quote in my travels today: Can you govern as a libertarian in America? You’ve got all these state government programs and you probably can’t get rid of a single one of them – or at least not more than one or two without a battle. Can you be a libertarian governor?

Mitch Daniels: I try to be. I mean, just to be simplistic about it, we believe that leaving the maximum number of dollars in the possession of those who earned them is an exercise in enlarging freedom.

I do this little game sometimes if I’m in a high school classroom. I walk around and ask innocently, ‘Does anyone have a dollar bill?’ – and some kid will produce one and I just stuff it in my pocket and walk on. After the consternation and the giggling stop, I say, ‘What, What?’ Then I go into a little rap and I say, ‘Oh, Jonathan wants his money back – notice that he is a dollar less free than he was a minute ago; if he had that dollar he could decide, he could choose [where and how to spend it]’.

Then I talk about how inevitably we have to coerce money out of people to do necessary and important public business. But if we believe in freedom and liberty than we ought to do that only for necessary purposes.

Then I go on to talk about competence and the fact that it becomes an equally solemn duty to never misspend a dollar. Maybe that’s not the right response but when I’m asked about governing as a libertarian, I would say that’s one way I do it.

Now, I don’t think for a minute Mitch Daniels governs like a true Libertarian, but he’s the best we’ve got. If we had it our way, you probably wouldn’t even recognize America today — particularly in the realm of healthcare, public education and mass transit. You would still have those things, in most cases, but they would be approached from the standpoint of making them affordable for everyone, not just the elite few and not just giving handouts to the poorest few, either.